1. Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt: If Hanukkah is America’s Jewish cultural touchstone, then in Israel it is Passover, and specifically the first night’s ritualistic Seder. A recent survey found that a whopping 97% of Israeli Jews regularly host or attend a Passover Seder.
- Thus, it is that this year’s first night of Passover has provided among the biggest shocks in a year that is full of them, with the country taking extraordinary measures to make sure people don’t try to travel for the holiday and spread the coronavirus around like an 11th plague.
- With the 3 p.m. curfew closing in, and intercity travel already banned, news sites report on empty streets and checkpoints galore.
- “Streets are quieter than usual,” notes a headline in The Times of Israel, in perhaps a tad of an understatement, given that Passover eve is perhaps — in normal times — the country’s busiest travel day, with traffic jams usually as prevalent as matzah balls.
- Channel 12 news reporter Or Ravid tweets out a picture of Tel Aviv’s Ayalon highway from 7 a.m. showing the city already looking like Yom Kippur (minus the bikes).
7:00, ערב חג פסח. הכבישים דיי ריקים. pic.twitter.com/mnj9pTiVrQ
— @Orravid (@OrRavid) April 8, 2020
- The channel reports that dozens of extra police checkpoints are being set up to make sure nobody moves. “2,000-4,000 police will be deployed across the country, along with Border Police, some 100 motorcycles will be sent out and 400 patrol vehicles. The most massive force will be in Bnei Brak, where restrictions remain central and plainclothes and uniformed police will continue operations there.”
- Speaking to Army Radio, Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein decides now is a good time to call for an end to the quarantine on his city: “The behavior of citizens has been exemplary, even on the fringes,” he says.
- Good luck with that. A police source tells Walla news that authorities who may have been a bit forgiving in the past are taking a no-nonsense approach to the holiday: “Anyone on the road Passover eve better have a good explanation. We don’t intend to be forgiving at all, and will hand out fines with no hesitation to anyone breaking curfew,” Sgt. Hard-Ass is quoted saying.
2. Adventures in lockdown land: With everyone stuck at home, news outlets are full of stories of those coping with their inability to be with family or others, and being forced to make their own Seder (a familiar challenge for those of us immigrants whose family live in the Old Country) with a mix of sangfroid and melancholy.
- “We were isolated,” reads the front page headline in tabloid Israel Hayom, a riff on the Haggadah’s central tenet that “we were slaves.”
- “This year we won’t be getting in the car and standing in traffic, the kids won’t be arguing along the way to Seder and grandma and grandpa’s in Jerusalem. This year, around a shortened family table … we’ll deeply understand the strength of tradition and of the extended tribe,” writes Einat Natan in Yedioth Ahronoth.
- Rachel, a woman living at a Jerusalem old age home, tells Army Radio that the Passover closure is not easy, but “they are taking care of us. We’re isolated, but not alone.”
- The feeling extends to the US as well: “‘This year we are enslaved – next year we will be free.’ That aspiration is very real this year,” Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious relations at the American Jewish Committee tells the AP, quoting from the Haggadah.
3. Freedom writers: Channel 12 consumer watchdog Menachem Horowitz writes about the yearly pre-Passover tradition of asking where others will be for Seder night, and notes that this year, with it being a moot question, he is reminded that:
- “We may never forget this Seder night, an island of isolation in a sea teeming with Seders, but for some people this year is nothing special.” He adds that he hopes next year people will act with sensitivity and maybe even invite these people in to join them.
- Haaretz’s lead editorial similarly waxes sentimental, noting that “this most family-oriented of festivals will be the holiday of isolation and social-distancing,” and calling it an opportunity for introspection: “Matters which until recently seemed all-important fall away in the face of a pandemic. Nationalism, ethnic identity and religion become less relevant. The coronavirus has brought a new equality to Israel. Everyone is vulnerable to the same danger, to nearly the same degree, and everything goes topsy-turvy.”
- In Israel Hayom, former prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky, who knows a thing or two about celebrating the Seder alone, writes that the message hitting home for him is the need for a unity government: “I hope that we learn from a situation the like of which we’ve never seen. We need to think about the world as a whole and search for ways of joining forces. There is a need for a unity government, and everything starts with the nuclear family,” he writes.
- Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov tweets out a Hebrew translation of portions of Martin Luther King Jr’s “Birth of a New Nation,” sermon delivered in Montgomery in 1957. Slightly misquoting King’s speech, which was about Ghana’s independence, he tweets out that “That’s the long story of Exodus from Egypt. Before you get to Canaan you’ve got a Red Sea to cross. You have a hardened heart of a pharaoh to confront.” (The actual quote is: “That’s the long story of freedom, isn’t it? Before you get to Canaan you’ve got a Red Sea to confront. You have a hardened heart of a pharaoh to confront.”)
- “We should remember that even if we are in isolation or celebrating just with our closest family, we are free and the power is in our hands,” he adds.
4. Livin’ la COVID loca: Some others are going even further and using the holiday to look at the bright side of things.
- “There is something admirable about the global reaction [to the crisis]. Really admirable. And that’s the prioritizing of life over the economy. Whether the response is right or wrong, even in terms of saving lives, is a different question. We don’t know yet. But we do know the numbers, we know the patterns. And resisting leaving the weak and deserting the elderly, the vulnerable, is really an amazing moral moment,” philosopher Moshe Halbertal tells ToI editor David Horovitz.
- “If British Queen Elizabeth II is still optimistic, so we should also be able to stop and look at the glass half full,” writes Maya Rachlin for Kan, citing Venice’s crystal clear waters and India’s nine minutes of candle-brightened silence as examples of shining moments of humanity.
- In Walla, pyschologist Or Yanir writes that unbridled freedom is just another word for nothing left to say: “Through the restrictions, some are finding relief and even feeling more free than other times, even though they are stuck at home.”
- In Israel Hayom, President Reuven Rivlin says kids at small Seders should also have their chins up (and eyes on the prize): “Remember that more intimate the Seder is, the better chance you have of finding the afikoman.”
5. Sunny side up: Also looking like a light at the end of the tunnel is an end to the egg shortage.
- Army Radio reports that so many are being brought in that next week there is expected to be a surplus, according to industry experts. The station notes that while others are cooped up, Israeli hens will continue laying and the airlift of European eggs to the country will be continuing.
- For those stuck trying to figure out how to make matza brie out of chia seeds or bananas, ToI’s Melanie Lidman has some advice for avoiding the next egg shortage: Grow your own.
- In a pun-filled how-to, Lidman notes that chickens don’t need much space, and urges others to take a crack at going super-local for their omelettes. “Like plunging your hands into soil and watching vegetables grow each day, there is something grounding and humbling about raising your own food. In questionable times, when everything seems up in the air, there is a quiet stability in knowing that you can simply walk outside and collect your breakfast.”
- In Haaretz, though, Netta Ahutiv says maybe this egg shortage is a good time for people to start to ween themselves off Big Ova’s opiates: “Cultivating the image of eggs as a healthy and basic food that is required in every home (which is in stark contrast to what eggs actually contain) is the Poultry Growers Board and their lackeys in the Agriculture Ministry, who have successfully brainwashed an entire country into believing this lie – that you can’t live without eggs, and that a holiday meal must include lots of this inferior product.”
6. Need a new drug: One thing there is no shortage of, apparently, is weed, or dealers, Ben Hartman writes for International Highlife, describing the popular Mahteret marijuana delivery network, where business is apparently booming.
- “People are ordering bigger amounts and also, they order more often. People are at home with nothing to do all day but get high and watch TV,” the CEO of the network tells him.
- Meanwhile, the people who really need drugs can’t get them. Channel 13 reports that hospitals are worried about running out of anesthetics as more and more people head into the ICU: “We’re asking that you carefully consider use of the anesthetic drugs, and avoid using them for anything other than surgeries required at that moment,” it quotes from a Health Ministry letter to hospitals.
- On ToI’s blog site, Hadassah Hospital resident Aaron Krom gives an upclose and gutting view of what it’s like for medical workers as they race to save people: “Here, you spend a long time getting dressed, and checking and double checking that you did it right. Then getting a friend to recheck. Then you go through an airlock system, and end up in this strange other-worldly place, with nurses and doctors dressed like spacemen, and perfectly ordinary looking people walking around, looking fine. It’s like some surreal alien movie.”
7. This is still a crisis: All the optimistic opinions in the world can’t make up for the sad fact that the virus is continuing to take a devastating toll across the globe, and in Israel as well.
- Haaretz reports that “Jerusalem is on the verge of collapse,” with ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods being overtaken by the virus and East Jerusalem hospitals unable to cope with demand.
- “I would like to warn you regarding the serious shortage of medical equipment at the hospitals in East Jerusalem, particularly protective equipment and equipment to conduct coronavirus testing,” the paper quotes mayor Moshe Leon writing in a letter to the Health Ministry’s Bar Siman-Tov.
- The paper also notes that within the divided yet eternally undivided city, “the highest rate of infection, 7.24 per 1,000 residents, is in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood, which is also home to a number of families from the United States.”
- On Tuesday, the virus claimed its youngest victim yet, a 37-year-old man, as the death toll rose to 71.
- Channel 12 news names the man as Doron, with no last name given, a father of two who worked as an engineer in the tech sector.
- His widow tells the channel that they had tried to launch a campaign for blood plasma from someone who had recovered from the virus, but by the time they got permission from the Health Ministry, it was too late to save him. “We fought until the last moment,” she says.
- No less tragic is the death of 97-year-old Shimon Reisleiber, the 10th person from the Beersheba Mishan old age home to succumb to the disease.
- Sending him there “was the mistake of our lives,” his grandson Oren tells Kan. “Mishan is a state-sponsored death camp.”